embracing the change

I think there is something so sweet about change in that it gives us time to process and reflect on all that we are leaving behind and all that is coming ahead. A friend-of-a-friend of mine is about to adopt their second child. They are, naturally, so excited to be expanding their family and welcoming someone else into their home. But there is still hard in it – she said that they have to grieve the loss of their family as they’ve always known it. They have to grieve the loss of their family that they have grown comfortable with. Their family is never going to be the same, which is simultaneously awesome and exciting but still a little bit hard.

I think what I feel most right now is the tension that comes along with change. I am currently transitioning out of a job that I love immensely, that I have poured myself (heart & soul) into for the past year and a half. It brought me joy and I woke up every morning excited to go to work. I’m moving to a different job at the same place, which is a blessing, but it’s still a change. And it’s sad. And hard.

I look back on the past year and a half of my job and am filled with so much thankfulness. It gave me opportunities to talk to students all day long, to learn about their cultures, to help other UF students lead others well, and taught me something new everyday. I loved it. All of those things make it so hard to move on from, and I really think that’s okay, probably even good. I’m excited for what lies ahead, but grieving the loss of a job that I loved.

I’m also one week from getting married. I’m marrying a man I’ve loved dearly for the past 6 years, and I honestly couldn’t be more excited. This day has been long awaited and I’m really really excited about entering into this new season of life with him. However, even in this joyous change, there’s still hard. Our lives our changing. We will no longer be “single,” making decisions for ourselves. We will become one – which is awesome and exciting but still different. In some ways, we need to grieve the loss of our lives as we have known them.

One of my favorite things about the movie Inside Out is that it perfectly demonstrated the reality that nothing in life is really 100% joy. There is sadness, or other emotions, mixed in with everything we experience. I am so thankful for my job and excited about the next step, but sad about my day-to-day at work looking different. I am so excited about getting married to Spencer, but we are so sad that his dad won’t be there on our wedding day. Sadness is definitely part of this joyful season – and we need to give ourselves the freedom to experience it.

I think the awesome thing about this is that it doesn’t discredit the excitement of the future, or of the next thing, but merely acknowledges the goodness of the season that came before. This grieving – this processing and feeling that comes along with change, allows us to step out with courage and rejoice in what is coming. So that’s what i’m trying to do. Trying to learn to love change by feeling all that is involved with it – the tension, the thankfulness, the sadness, the excitement.

Beyond that, i’m so thankful that God is faithfully walking with me in all of this change, and that I am never alone.

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What I’ve been thankful for lately

I think the last time I blogged was 286 days ago.  That’s a long time.

To ease back in, here’s what I’ve been thankful for lately. Honestly, most days I don’t live aware of how blessed I really am. But counting these gifts and reflecting on them helps.

So here they are:

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1. For cousins who feel more like siblings (+2), squeezing on couches and all the laughter that ensues when we are together.

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2. For brothers who are turning into my best friends as time goes on, and for finally having a sister. I love you, Tori Delk.

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3. For life-long friends reunited at Sarah’s wedding. Such a beautiful day and beautiful friends.

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4. For hand-drawn snowflakes left on bed-side tables, thoughtful notes, and being known. Spencer, you are good for my heart.

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5. For snow in Gainesville (yes, it happened), and the joy I experienced in knowing that God knows the desires of my heart.

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6. For Sunday afternoons in a hammock, and learning that the best heart talks happen swinging between trees.

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7. For the first ever City Church Sunday morning service, and a community of people who are broken and but being made new.

9. For anything Ben Rector sings.

Recent Thankfulness

IMG_1532[for this man who smiles as i learn to capture beauty through my lens]

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[for family, america, and crazy dad’s who make silly door signs like this one]

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[window boxes that remind me that sometimes a pop of color is all you need]

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[for legacies left by intentional grandparents and finding my brick in centennial olympic park]

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[for this butterfly that has not once but twice reminded me to slow down a little bit]

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[for sweet time with this family that has grown so dear to me the past few years, and lots and lots of laughter]

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[for the reminder that sometimes learning new things is just what I need, and successfully completing my first round of golf.]

Real Talk: What We’ve learned about dating

417893_10200167585008169_234998734_nPreface: My cool boyfriend Spencer edited/added some input into this post. (you will see it in bold) We were reflecting on our relationship and realized we’d learned a lot in the past few years, so I decided to write it all out and put it on the world wide web. Fasten your seat belts everyone. Here we go…

1. THERE ARE NO RULES TO DATING. (SIDE NOTE: what I really mean to say here is that aside from things the bible is very clear about, there are no rules to dating) Please, hear me out on this one. I love rules. I am a rule follower.  For a long time I wanted to follow “healthy relationship rules.” What are those, you ask? Let me tell you. These rules are things like “you can kiss after _______ long.” “You can talk about your past once you get to _____ point (or maybe never).” ” ______ is something you should only tell to the man you are going to marry.” You should only say “I love you” when ________.”  The list goes on and on. My natural tendency is to want to figure out all these rules then follow them to a T.  But in reality, these are control mechanisms we use to try to make our relationship perfect.

Good news: there are no perfectly healthy relationships. Two broken people are trying to love each other – why do we expect perfection? Better news: God is a redeemer. All the wrong steps you take, he redeems. All the “right” steps you take in your relationship, he still redeems. Best news: whether you break-up or get married, God is still in control, he still loves you, and he is still good. So we’ve been able to relax, trust Jesus and the Holy Spirit to guide us into what a healthy relationship looks like for us.

2. I JUST WANNA HAVE FUN. This is pretty self-explanatory. But dating is supposed to be fun, so we do fun things together while we can. Exhibit A: on Good Friday Spencer and I went to get pizookie (our favorite dessert) at a sit-down nice-restaurant in Gainesville, and then went to McDonald’s for dinner. In that order. It was weird. It was fun. That’s what dating is for! (Or maybe the restaurant was too expensive for my tight college budget to buy the main course there….no one will ever know!)

3. MY FUTURE HUSBAND CHECKLIST IS A PIECE OF CRAP. Pardon my language, but this is an extremely valid point. I made one in a Bible study when I was 12. I’m pretty sure it included items like “Bill-Cosby sense of humor” and “brown hair and tan skin.” This is ironic because Spencer is funny, but not Bill Cosby funny.  He also has blonde hair/pale skin. So 12 year old self, you nailed it.

In all seriousness, let me be clear:  I’m not saying that it’s bad to have standards.  It’s definitely important to know what qualities work well with you and what you like and don’t like, but the only standard that really matters is this: is the person I’m dating repenting and believing the gospel? If so, everything else is secondary. (People sometimes worry about their significant other “changing” over time, but the way I see it, as long as the person believes the gospel and is actively repenting of their sin, they will become more like Christ. I’ll take that change any day of the week. You can read this article from Tim Keller to see where I’m coming from: You Never Marry The Right Person)

4. THERE IS JOY IN OBEDIENCE. Real talk: dating for a long time is hard because trying to honor and glorify God with your bodies while you are dating is challenging. If this is easy for you, maybe you are some superhuman (please tell me your secrets). BUT the most helpful thing is this: Christ satisfies. We are given commandments in the Bible for a reason, and there is JOY that comes from obedience. That joy is worth pursuing far more than temporary physical pleasure. By reminding each other of this truth, it helps turn to Jesus and learn to be satisfied in Him.

5. COUNSELING IS THE BEST EVER. (Amen, sista.) I wish there was a way to double capitalize something, because I’m practically yelling this one here. The most helpful thing in my relationship with Spencer is that we have both gone to (and are currently going to) counseling individually. We have been working through our own crap and it has been incredibly helpful in learning how we are wired individually.  As a result, it’s helped us communicate way better. (More on counseling later)

6. WE CAN’T IGNORE “RED FLAGS.” Let me introduce you to what we call a “red flag.” A red flag is something that that you observe in the person you’re dating, whether it be personality quirks, sin patterns, or just weird things about them that you don’t like. Basically, you want to know if these things are deal breakers. Spencer and I try to talk about these things once a month (if we have any). Are they hard conversations? HECK TO THE YES. Are they great conversations? HECK TO THE YES x 2. Talking about red-flags gives us the opportunity to voice concerns and then help each-other understand why we feel/think/act that way. So far, this has been really helpful in understanding our differences and but also in learning why we work well together.

8. IDOLATRY IS SERIOUS, BUT IT’S A HEART ISSUE. John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. Which means we naturally find things to worship other than Jesus. It is particularly easy to make a significant other an idol because they give you lots of attention, affirmation, and love. (All great things, I might add.) In almost every Christian dating relationship I’ve known, this is a struggle. However, I think people sometimes take the wrong tactic. They think “Hey, I’m idolizing this relationship. Let’s break-up.” Obviously, if a relationship is unhealthy, breaking up may be the answer. But it also may not be. (there’s a great article in Relevant magazine if you want to read more about this)

Your idolatry is a HEART issue. If you just break up instead of working through it, then guess what will happen in your next relationship? Yep, you guessed it. Same thing. The pattern just continues to repeat until you understand what you are looking for in that relationship to satisfy you, and then repent about it.  Spencer and I realized pretty early on that our hearts look for ways our relationship can satisfy us. As these things come up, we do examine our relationship to see if we need to change anything. But we always look at our hearts as well, and have learned that in repenting of our idolatry and believing that Jesus died for us, satisfies us, and is making us new, we can continue our relationship and continue repenting and believing. (Here’s an interesting idea: just because we have made a good thing into a God thing, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good thing anymore. We need to strip it back down off of the throne of our hearts and back to the basic, good thing it is.)

 7. GOOD FIGHTING SKILLS = BEING REAL WITH EACH-OTHER. The verse “don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a great verse, and has helped us learn to resolve conflicts as they arise instead of suppressing little issues until they blow up into big issues. However, sometimes you need a little space to think before you apply your good (ninja) fighting skills. For example: when I’m just SO ANGRY that Spencer didn’t park in that exact parking space I wanted him to, it’s probably not the best to talk about it right then. When I have some time to think about what’s really going on I either realize: a) I’m an idiot for being angry about that. b) what’s really hurting me is something else going on (see below).

We have had our fair share of fights over the years and learned a whole heap (I will virtually “high-five” to whoever gets this reference) about how to fight well. The key ingredient to a great fighting skills is getting to the heart of the issue. In all of our conflicts, one person did something to hurt the other person or frustrate them and that started the conflict. But identifying the heart behind the issue, what the underlying transgression was, starts the healing process. It sometimes hurts to be real, to let down your guard and let the other person in to how you are really feeling, but it works.

8. WE LOVE OUR GIRL/GUY FRIENDS. (AND LOVE HANGING WITH THEM). We have found that being intentional in our friendships has been so helpful for our relationship. Whether it’s small groups, people we live with, whatever. We love and value that time together, and make it a rule not to “blow off” our friends to spend time with each other.  (Speaking of guy friends, they’re awesome. And girl friends, even though I have admittedly much fewer of those. The community of guys I have at school, and the older male mentors I have in my life are great for my heart.)

Closing Remarks: We are not experts. Far from it. These are just some things we’ve learned over the course of our relationship that may be helpful for you (or this may be the worst advice you’ve ever read and you disagree with every. single. word. That’s okay too!!)

Actual closing remarks: thanks for reading the worlds longest blog post with an unnecessary amount of capitalization. You’re welcome.

Recent Thankfulness

One of my all time favorite blogs, Today’s Letters, frequently posts about what they’ve been thankful for lately. In an effort to update this blog-universe (blog-iverse?) about the past few crazy weeks, I’m going to do my own thankfulness post. So many good things have happened lately!

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I’m thankful for five days in the mountains of North Carolina with a group of friends. (This is my favorite picture from the week)

IMG_9951I’m thankful for finding this slightly creepy abandoned theme park, The Land of Oz, at the top of this mountain.

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I’m thankful for a new camera. Yes, it made me a little sick to spend so much money on one item. But it was time for an upgrade and I love this new t4i!

IMG_0454I’m thankful for the little things. Like squirrels that run along our fence in the backyard.

IMG_0379I’m thankful for this pup. He’s “so ugly he’s cute.”

photoI’m thankful for my brother proposing to his sweet girlfriend, and this wonderful new addition to the Delk Family. I can’t believe I’ll finally have a sister!

IMG_0806I’m thankful for this handsome guy, who continues to love me well and challenge me daily!

 

Be thankful today, friends!

Real Talk: Thankfulness and Reflections about year #2.

I’m currently sitting in a mess of my dorm room trying to pack up my belongings to move back home for the summer. As I’ve thought about this past year, I realized two things: it’s been really hard, but it’s also been really good.  I think it would be safe to say that this has been the hardest year of my life. I have experienced pain and sadness and despair more than I ever have. But I think it’s also fitting to reflect on the ways God has provided and has been so gracious to me. I really do have so much to be thankful for.

1. I’m thankful for suffering. The suffering I’ve experienced has done two things in my heart: First, it has made me trust and cling to Jesus more than I ever have. Secondly, it has reminded me so vividly that this world isn’t my home. I have scars from the ways this world has hurt me, and I’ve been broken and wounded. But the cross is evidence of the promise that God is for me, and the story isn’t over. I have had to cling to and and delight in the promise that my life on earth is short and small compared to eternity. I’m so glad he is making all things new.

2. I’m thankful that I don’t need a “group.” For a while I thought that being in college meant I would have a set group of 10 friends who were all friends with each other and we would do EVERYTHING together ALL OF THE TIME. The end of my first year, I didn’t have that group. I spent part of my second year wishing I had one. I finally realized that I have incredible friends, in all different “groups” and I love spending time with them, whenever that opportunity presents itself. This has freed me to really invest in those relationships, and I’ve seen the Lord develop and use them in incredible ways.

3. I’m thankful for counseling. This could be a whole post in and of itself (it probably will be someday). But I’m so thankful that the Lord has provided an awesome counselor to walk with me through this season of my life. I have learned so much about myself, about my heart, and about the Lord. It has been so refreshing and healing for me.

4. I’m thankful for Spencer. He is at UF with me this year, and it has been such a blessing. Walking through some crazy hard things in our lives this year forced us to figure out what it looks like to love each-other when life is hard. I’m thankful that he is pursuing Jesus and trusting God with our relationship. Can’t wait to see what God has in store!

5. I’m thankful for opportunities to grow in leadership. Between being an RA for 50 awesome freshman girls, and helping with women’s ministry at CRU, God placed some awesome opportunities on my lap to learn how to lead well. I failed, repented, and accepted (and hopefully gave) grace. I’ve definitely learned a lot.

6. I’m thankful for lots of sleep. I’ve seriously gotten an unreal amount of sleep this year (we are talking an average of 9.5 hours a night) thanks to some late classes and I’ve loved it.

 6. I’m thankful for new believers. I have had the incredible opportunity to get a front row seat watching my friend Andrea hear the gospel, join my small group through our church, and then be baptized. Her passion, excitement and joy for Christ is incredibly overwhelming and contagious. Her life has been such an encouragement and it has been amazing to see what God has done in her!

At the end of it all, I can say that “surely I have seen the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm27:13) in so many ways this year. Soli Deo Gloria!

I trust you, Lord

For the vast majority of my life, I’ve lived in fear of suffering. I’ve always known suffering was inevitable because we live in a broken world. I just dreaded the time when it would be “my turn.” I was so afraid of the pain. I often thought, “what is God going to do to me? What is he going to put me through? Who close to me will die, get cancer, or hurt me?” I dreaded the season of my life when I would hurt and weep and feel like I just can’t handle life anymore.

Well, that season is here.

Those of you who kept up with this blog know about my time in Newark. Although there were so many great and wonderful things about being in Newark, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to walk through. I felt like God had just thrown me into an arena, sending me all of these trials, and He was just watching off at a distance – never stepping in or intervening.

After getting back from Newark and having to process everything I experienced, I found out that I was lied to in a very sick and broken way. I was controlled, used, and manipulated during my time in Newark. I trusted someone, and they betrayed me. The wounds from that dug so deep into the very depths of my heart. I can’t even quantify it. I was hurt and angry, more than I have ever been in my life. I cried. I wept. I shook my fist at God and said “YOU ALLOWED THIS, CAN YOU REALLY BE GOOD?”

As I walked through this valley of betrayal,  hurt and complete brokeness, God gave me grace to see that He had been with me in Newark – fighting for me, protecting me, and pursuing me with His relentless love.  It still sucked. It was still a reflection of the fall and a result of sin. But I see now, coming out on the other side of the valley, that His love for me is real. I can trust Him.

Three weeks ago I realized that I was no longer afraid of the suffering that I would have to endure in this life. I no longer live in fear of what God is going to “throw at me” or “call me to do.” Because if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that there is something so sweet about suffering.  There is something so sweet about being at the end of my rope. There is something so sweet about feeling like I can’t handle life any more. In those moments, the only thing my heart can hold onto is Christ. And that is a very sweet place to be.

After living through those times of struggle and sadness and betrayal and dispair, I can finally look back and say it was worth it – because after walking through this fire, Christ, in all of His Glory, has never been more real to me.

Last Sunday a new season of suffering began. A very close family friend, and my boyfriends father, suddenly and tragically passed away.  I know that the next months and years will be incredibly difficult as I walk through this season with Spencer and in my own heart. But I’m not afraid of what it will be like. God brought me through Newark, he can bring me through this. I see a long, dark, tunnel ahead of me, but this time I know that Christ is guiding me and leading me step-by-step. It will be hard. It will be ugly at times. There will be moments of joy and moments of intense sadness. God isn’t going to “fix it,” but he is going to redeem it.

My heart echo’s David’s words, and I’m resting on this promise:  “I remain confident of this: surely I will see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living. Wait on the Lord; be strong and take heart, wait on the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

Home Again

Well, my time in Newark has come to an end. I have been home for a few days now and have enjoyed resting and relaxing while getting ready to go back to school. I would like to thank everyone again,for reading, praying, encouraging, and supporting me. The Lord has blessed me immensely through you all!

I was encouraged when I left Newark at the end of my time there because I really believe that God is doing great things in Newark. Although I saw so much brokenness, hurt, and despair in Newark, I also saw so much beauty – in the faces of joyful children, the thankfulness of mothers, and the sunrise every morning. In the 1600’s, the founders of Newark said that Newark would one day be the closest thing to heaven on earth. I have faith that God is doing a new thing in Newark, he is working and changing lives. It was such a blessing to be a part of what he is doing, even though it was hard at times. Throughout the moments of joy and sorrow, God has shown me so much about His plans, His promises and His purposes. Thank you, friends and family. Please keep the city of Newark and Safe Haven in your prayers!

when life hurts too much

I think the hardest part about being in Newark is dealing with the brokenness of this world. It’s easy to hide behind our comfortable lives and not be confronted with all the ways other people are struggling and hurting.

It’s hard to escape the struggle and hurt in Newark. It’s everywhere…and it has made me ask so many questions. Why do these children not have enough to eat? Why do some of them have to be raised by drug-addicted parents? Who is going to teach those girls how to be women and who will teach those boys how to be husbands and fathers one day? Why did my 7 year old friend have to watch her father get shot on the street? Why is a 19-year-old dying from a terminal illness? And why aren’t any of those stories mine? 

The brokenness of this world is right before my eyes and my heart doesn’t know how to handle it.

Yes, God is sovereign. But oh, so much of life is hard.

There have been times (like, say, yesterday), where I literally just broke down from all of the – “whys” and blatantly told God that this sucks. Wrestling with God’s goodness and sovereignty in the midst of a world of brokenness is harder than I thought.

One of the most crucial things I have learned as I’ve processed and wrestled with all of this is that it’s okay to be not okay. But God is still good. So in the moments when the weight of all of this is really too much to bear and life really really hurts, it isn’t helpful to shrug my shoulders, play the “God is good” card, and pretend like everything is great.

What my heart needs more than that to sit in all of this. My heart needs to deal with it because the brokenness I see around me is simply a reflection of the brokenness that is also inside my heart. So I sit in that…I wrestle with it. I tell God that I really really don’t like this and that and wish life wasn’t so hard sometimes. But I also have to (sometimes amidst tears and frustration), let my heart sit in the fact that God is always good.

I think I’m realizing that the way to respond to this brokenness isn’t to hide from it, or to numb yourself to the pain of it all because “God is so great” and “everything happens for a reason”, but to honestly come before the throne and say “This sucks, but you are good.” 

And I will be the first to say that it doesn’t instantly make everything better. Because you still feel it all. You still feel the pain and hurt and frustration and struggle. But deep down you know that Jesus carried all of that for you…for them…and He is graciously working to make everything new.

And that’s where I believe the real gift lies – in being able to embrace life when it hurts but also quietly rest in the fact that God is always good.

“you’re going in there?”

Before camp every day, we have to walk down to the Hyatt Court to get the kids. Hyatt Court is the housing project right down the street from the church, and most of the kids who come to our camp live there. The kids have a hard time remembering when they are supposed to be at church, so we walk down there to the play ground and bring them back with us.

Before I came to Newark, I would have never gone somewhere like this. I probably wouldn’t even drive my car there in Orlando, much less walk in there alone. The other day a lady saw me walking alone into Hyatt, and she yelled at me from across the street “hey! wait a minute, you’re going in there?” 

In all honesty, everything in me wanted to stop walking, turn around, and say “you’re right. This is crazy. I should go back.” But I have been learning lately about God’s provision and about taking courageous steps in faith. So my feet kept moving further into Hyatt as I saw some familiar faces playing on the play ground and calling out my name – “Hey miss Sarah! It’s time to go to church, isn’t it?”

I realized later that “you’re going in there?” is the question that the world should always ask followers of Christ.   This should be their observation of the church, their observation of me. And many times, it’s not. We live in our comfortable homes in our comfortable world with our comfortable friends.

And I wonder – if Christians aren’t willing to get uncomfortable for the sake of the poor, for the sake of the gospel, and ultimately for the sake of God’s glory, who will? 

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s fun. And i definitely don’t think I have it all together. But shouldn’t we all get a little crazy for the sake of the gospel? The world should look at me always and think – you’re going in there? You’re going to share the gospel with the girl who sits next to you in class? You’re going to feed the homeless? You’re going to pray with the woman crying on the bus? You’re going to care for the windows and orphans? You’re going to be willing to be persecuted for your faith? You’re going in there?

Although my initial reaction to her bold question was to shirk back in fear, I’m so glad she asked.

Now I am praying that by God’s grace my life becomes a life that is characterized by doing bold things for the sake of the gospel. I know that the work Christ accomplished on the cross frees me from the  fear of man, the approval of others, and the opinions of this world. I also know that I have such a long way to go. I am confident that as my heart learns to believe the Gospel more and more, I will be compelled to live the kind of life that the world looks at and says  – you’re going in there?  

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“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phillipians 1:6